Ants Climbing A Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu)
Ants Climbing A Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu) is a delicious Sichuan mung bean vermicelli and ground pork stir-fry with a mouthwatering spicy sauce starring dou ban jiang! It’s quick and easy to make, customizable with your favorite protein, and exploding with BIG and BOLD spicy flavors!
Ok, I’ll admit this dish has a strange name. But my dear friends, do not let the weirdness of the name keep you from enjoying this wonderfully tasty stir-fried noodles and ground pork dish!
Why is it called “Ants Climbing A Tree”?
There are several versions of the story behind the name. But one version is that a daughter-in-law in China was taking care of her sick mother-in-law. One day, she didn’t have much money on her, but she still needed to cook for her mother-in-law. She went out and managed to get a cheap small cut of meat as well as some mung bean vermicelli. Once back home, she minced the meat and stir-fried it with the noodles, and then presented the dish to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law, not being able to see properly, said that it looked like she was serving her ants (the ground meat) that were climbing up a tree branch (the noodles).
And thus, the name for this dish – Ma Yi Shang Shu (蚂蚁上树) – came about! Literally translated from Chinese, ma yi shang shu means “ants climbing up a tree”.
This stir-fried mung bean vermicelli with pork is incredibly tasty and EXPLODING with flavor! It’s full of fragrant aromatics and showcases the Chinese holy trinity – garlic, ginger, and spring onion (scallion). And the mouthwatering sauce coating the springy textured glass noodles is spicy, salty, and slightly tangy! Bonus? This dish can be on your table in just 20 minutes!
Though you can make this dish anytime of the year, I thought it’d be perfect to share my version of this classic Sichuan stir-fried noodles with you now with Chinese New Year just around the corner. Did you know that it’s lucky to eat noodles during CNY because they symbolize longevity? The longer the noodles are the better, and glass noodles are really long and slurp-ili-cious! 😋
Why This Recipe Works
- It’s quick and easy to make on any given weeknight in one wok. We’re talking 20 minutes inclusive of prep time!
- It’s full of flavorful aromatics like garlic, ginger, and spicy red chilies (though you can make it milder with less or no chilies if you prefer).
- Pixian dou ban jiang, a fermented chili bean paste with spicy, salty, and slightly sour notes, adds an incredible amount of flavor to this dish.
- The mung bean vermicelli in this dish has a wonderful springy texture, and they’ll make you want to keep slurping and chewing until your plate is completely clean!
- You can customize it with your favorite ground protein (aka little ants!). Ground pork, beef, turkey, chicken, or a plant-based ground meat substitute would all taste great in this easy dish.
- You can enjoy it on its own as a main dish, or serve with steamed rice.
- Ground Pork: Feel free to use ground beef, chicken, turkey, etc. or a plant-based ground meat substitute. (See ‘Variations’ section below for more substitute ideas for the pork.)
- Chilies: I used Bird’s Eye red chilies, but any hot red chilies that you can get in your area will work. As always, adjust the number of chilies you use to suit your preference, or omit them to make this dish milder.
- Glass Noodles: These are also known as mung bean vermicelli, bean threads, and cellophane noodles. They need soaking in room temperature water for a couple of minutes before they can be used in the stir-fry. They have a wonderful chewy and springy texture in stir-fries, but become slippery and tender in soups. Look for them at your local Asian supermarket, Thai grocery store, or order them online.
- Oil: I used canola oil, but any neutral-flavored cooking oil with a high smoke point (i.e. peanut oil, rice bran oil, etc.) is fine to use.
- Chili Powder: I used a Thai chili powder, which is comprised of chili flakes, seeds, and powder. You can substitute with crushed red pepper chili flakes, or use another chili powder of your choice. Again, omit if you prefer to make this dish milder.
- Shao Xing Rice Wine: This is a fragrant Chinese rice wine that’s used in everyday Chinese cooking. It should be available in Asian supermarkets and online. In a pinch, you can substitute with dry sherry if you don’t have it on hand.
- Dark Soy Sauce: This soy sauce is mainly used for color, and it’s slightly less salty than regular soy sauce. If you don’t have it on hand, simply use additional low sodium light soy sauce in its place.
- Chili Oil (optional): I used a store-bought pure chili oil without any flakes or seeds. It adds extra heat to this spicy dish! But you can omit it if you prefer to make this dish less spicy.
- Dou Ban Jiang: This is also known and ‘doubanjiang’ and ‘toban djan’, and it’s a fermented chili bean paste/sauce that’s commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. It’s spicy and salty with a hint of tanginess. I used a Pixian dou ban jiang, which is more authentic and stronger in flavor than the Cantonese type of dou ban jiang – like the chili bean sauce made by Lee Kum Kee. Outside Asia, the best way to get your hands on Pixian dou ban jiang would be to order it online. In Hong Kong, I managed to find a jar in my local wet market. However, if you can only find (or already have) Lee Kum Kee’s version of the sauce on hand, feel free to use it instead as the dish will still be tasty.
Full ingredient list and amounts are in the recipe card below.
How to Make Ants Climbing A Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu)
1. Prep. Soak the mung bean vermicelli in a bowl filled with room temperature for a few minutes until they’re tender and pliable.
2. Sauté aromatics. Sauté the dou ban jiang and ginger in a bit of oil in a large wok for a few seconds, then add the garlic and chilies and sauté for a few more seconds to combine.
3. Cook the pork. Break up the lumps with your spatula and cook until almost cooked through.
4. Stir in the sauces. Toss to combine with everything for a few seconds.
5. Add water and seasonings. Let it all simmer for a couple of minutes to let the flavors meld.
6. Add the noodles. Stir fry for a few minutes, until the vermicelli soaks up most of the sauce.
7. Final touches. Grate a garlic clove directly on top of the noodles and add most of the spring onion. (The fresh raw garlic flavor at the end really makes the flavors in this dish pop!) Toss briefly, then switch off the heat.
8. Serve! Divide the noodles evenly onto plates and drizzle a drizzle a bit of sesame oil on top. Garnish with the remainder spring onion and serve immediately! You can serve it on its own, or with some steamed rice as is common on Chinese dining tables.
Full detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. Like almost all stir-fries, this one is quick to cook! It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go in the wok before you start cooking.
- Use tongs and a spatula to toss the noodles with the sauce. The glass noodles tend to clump together as they absorb the sauce. Using tongs to lift the noodles and a spatula to fold them in will help prevent clumping.
- For more saucy noodles, feel free to add a little more hot water and don’t wait for the noodles to absorb almost all of the sauce. You can proceed with the final steps and then serve.
- Use chicken stock for more flavor instead of hot water.
I don’t recommend making this dish ahead as the noodles will continue to absorb the sauce once off the heat. They may become too dry by the time you’re ready to eat. Ants Climbing A Tree is a dish that’s best eaten immediately, or at least within the same hour after cooking.
- Add veggies. Although not traditionally added, chopped bok choy, baby spinach, Chinese brocolli would all be a great addition.
- Make it vegetarian/vegan. Use crumbled cooked tofu, minced mushrooms (any kind you like), or a plant-based ground meat substitute such as Beyond Beef®, Quorn™ Mince, Impossible™ Burger, or OmniPork in place of the ground pork.
- Make it gluten-free. Use gluten-free soy sauces and dry sherry in place of the Shao Xing rice wine. Mung bean vermicelli is made from mung bean starch (or occasionally other vegetable starch), so they are naturally gluten-free.
More Stir-fried Noodles
- Stir-fried Kimchi Chicken Noodles
- Stir-fried E-fu Noodles with Shrimp
- Pad Kee Mao Gai (Thai Drunken Noodles with Chicken)
- Thai Basil Chicken Spaghetti
- Pad Mee Korat (Pad Thai’s lesser-known spicy cousin!)
- Sichuan Sauce Noodles Stir-fry
- Or browse the entire Noodles recipe collection.
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Ants Climbing A Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu)
Ants Climbing A Tree is a quick & easy to make Sichuan mung bean vermicelli and ground pork stir-fry with a mouthwatering spicy that’s exploding with BIG and BOLD flavors!
- Prep Time: 10
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 2 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stir-fry
- Cuisine: Sichuan
- 120 grams / 4.2 ounces Mung Bean Vermicelli (also known as glass noodles, cellophane noodles, and bean threads) – soaked in water according to package instructions and drained
- 1.5 TBLS minced Ginger
- 5 Garlic cloves – 4 cloves minced, 1 clove grated
- 2–10 Red Chilies (Bird’s Eye preferred, but any small hot red chilies will work), to taste – chopped
- 1 Spring Onion (Scallion/Green Onion) – chopped
- 1.5 TBLS Canola Oil (or any neutral-flavored cooking oil with a high smoke point)
- ½ TSP Chili Oil (optional)
- 1.5 TBLS Dou Ban Jiang (Chili Bean Sauce) – Sichuan Pixian Dou Ban Jiang preferred, but Lee Kum Kee’s Chili Bean Sauce will work. (see notes)
- 200 grams / 7 ounces Ground Pork (or ground beef, chicken, or turkey)
- 1 TBLS Shao Xing Rice Wine
- 1.5 TBLS Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce
- ½ TSP Dark Soy Sauce
- 1 cup /237ml Hot Water (or chicken stock for more flavor)
- ¾ TSP White Sugar, to taste
- ¼ TSP Thai Chili Powder (optional), to taste – substitute with crushed red pepper chili flakes if unavailable
- To Serve: Drizzle of Sesame Oil, remainder chopped spring onion, steamed rice (optional)
- Prep: Soak the mung bean vermicelli in a bowl filled with room temperature water as per package instructions (usually about 7-10 minutes). Once tender and pliable, drain well and set aside. Mince the ginger, 4 garlic cloves, and chop the chilies and spring onion.
- Sauté aromatics: Heat the canola oil in a large wok or deep skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the dou ban jiang and ginger and sauté for 10 seconds. Then add the minced garlic and red chilies and stir-fry for 30 seconds to combine.
- Cook the pork: Add the ground pork and cook for 2 minutes, breaking up the lumps with your spatula, until almost cooked through.
- Add the sauces: Add the Shao Xing rice wine, low sodium light soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. Toss for 30 seconds to combine, or until the pork has cooked through.
- Stir in water and seasonings: Pour in the hot water, and stir in the white sugar and Thai chili powder (if using). Simmer for about a minute to let the flavors meld.
- Add the noodles: Add the mung bean vermicelli and use tongs and a spatula to toss for 2-3 minutes, or until the noodles have absorbed almost all of the sauce.
- Toss through garlic and spring onion: Grate the remaining garlic clove directly on top the noodles and add most of the spring onion (reserve some for garnish). Toss for 30 seconds to combine, then switch off the heat.
- To Serve: Divide evenly onto plates, and drizzle a bit of sesame oil on top. Garnish with the remainder spring onion and serve immediately either on its own, or with steamed rice.
Ingredient Notes, Cook’s Tips, and FAQs
- Noodles and sauces: Mung bean vermicelli, Shao Xing rice wine, and dark soy sauce can all be found in an Asian or Chinese supermarket, or online. You can substitute dry sherry for the Shao Xing rice wine and low sodium light soy sauce for the dark soy sauce if unavailable.
- Dou ban jiang: I used a Pixian dou ban jiang, which is more authentic and stronger in flavor than the Cantonese type of dou ban jian made by Lee Kum Kee. Outside Asia, the best way to get your hands on Pixian dou ban jiang would be to order it online. However, if can only find (or already have) Lee Kum Kee’s version of the sauce on hand, feel free to use it instead as it’ll still be tasty.
- Chilies and chili oil: Adjust the number of chilies you use to suit your preference. Or omit them, the chili oil, and the Thai chili powder to make this dish milder.
- For more saucy noodles: Add a little more hot water in step 5 than indicated, and don’t wait for the noodles to absorb almost all of the sauce in step 6. You can proceed with the final steps and then serve. Depending on how much more water you add, you may need to increase the amount of dou ban jiang and seasoning sauces as per your taste.
- Can I make this ahead? I don’t recommend making this dish ahead as the noodles will continue to absorb the sauce once off the heat. They may become too dry by the time you’re ready to eat. It’s best eaten immediately, or at least within the same hour after cooking.
- See post above for variations if you’d like to customize this dish.
Shop the Recipe
- Serving Size: 1 plate
- Calories: 694
- Sugar: 9.1g
- Sodium: 1180.4mg
- Fat: 35.8g
- Saturated Fat: 9.3g
- Unsaturated Fat: 22.2g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 69.4g
- Fiber: 3.4g
- Protein: 20.8g
- Cholesterol: 72mg
The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.
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